Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sermon; Advent 2B; Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” – Isaiah 40:3

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you . . . the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'.” – Mark 1:2-3

The readings from both Isaiah and Mark have a sense of movement about them.  The passage from Isaiah is written to a people in exile.  The Babylonians have conquered Jerusalem and carted off the majority of the population.  In the midst and recent memory of that terrible event, God sends words of comfort to his people through Isaiah.

Remember, God says, you were once captives in another strange land a long time ago.  And I will deliver you through the wilderness just as I did to your ancestors.  Every mountain will be made low, every valley raised up and the uneven ground made level.

This is good news for the captives of Babylon.  Even though this captivity would last anywhere from 48 – 70 years (depending on your sources and math), it won't last forever and there is hope that God will once again lead the captives free.  The Jews are moving from freedom to captivity and back to freedom.

In Mark, we are introduced to John the Baptist.  He is depicted as the second coming of Elijah.  Exactly what Mark thought of him is debatable, but it is clear that Mark sees him as the last great prophet of God before the coming of the Messiah.

John arrives on the scene in advance of Jesus.  He comes to announce the coming of the Messiah.  He comes to announce to the people it's time to start paying attention.  He comes to get people to move from complacency to action.  He comes to open their eyes to seeing God do new things in a new way with new people.  There begins with John a movement from the way things have always been to the way things should be.

From captivity to freedom.  From the old ways of religious duty to a new way of God with us.  From repentance to forgiveness.  From water to the Holy Spirit.  Our readings today give us a sense of movement.  The season of Advent also gives us a sense of movement as we prepare to move toward Christmas.

This movement, though, can be self-centered.  WE are moving from captivity to freedom.  WE are moving to a new way of relating to God.  WE are moving toward Christmas.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  It's good for us to move to freedom.  It's good for us to find new ways to relate to God.  It's good to move toward Christmas.

But take a look at those passages again:  In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Notice who is doing the moving; it's not us, per se, but God.  God is doing a new thing.  God is on the move.  And notice that we are the ones doing the preparing.

In Isaiah, the prophet tells the people that God is coming to release them from captivity and lead them to freedom.  In Mark, the prophet tells the people that the kingdom is at hand and God is in their midst.

What does all this mean for us?  It means we have a job to do.  Both prophets talk about preparing the way of the Lord.  Like when company comes to visit, God is coming and we all have a job to do to get ready.  We all have a job to do to prepare the way of the Lord.

The way of the Lord, though, isn't an actual road.  The way of the Lord is how God chooses to do business.  God's desire is to remove those man-made mountains, valleys and uneven ground so that the way to God and full humanity are made easier.

The way of the Lord is this: walk humbly, love mercy, seek justice, love your neighbor, care for the widow and orphan, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, respect the dignity of every human being, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

This is the way of the Lord and it is our job to help prepare it.  It is our job to hep ensure those kingdom values are reflected here on earth.  Can we help lower the mountains of injustice?  Can we fill in the valleys of hunger?  Can we level the ground made uneven by loss of dignity?  Can we proclaim the good news of God in Christ in a beautiful and holy way so as to be heard by others?

We obviously can't do it all, but we are making a good start.  We are helping to fill in those valleys of hunger by providing snack packs to the kids at Ft. Vannoy.  We are helping to create a level ground of dignity by providing clothing to them as well.  We are, in a small way, helping to prepare the way of the Lord.  This is good news.

The lessons today have a sense of movement about them.  While Advent is a time of expectant and hopeful waiting, Advent is also a time of moving.  It is a time of journeys.  It is a time of preparation.

This Advent, let us continue to prepare the way of the Lord in heart, mind and soul.



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